Reblog: Bullies and Re-membering

This is a reblog from my channel at PaganSquare… to see the original, click HERE.

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“Bully Bogey” by Brian Froud, from the book Good Faeries, Bad Faeries

I was bullied really badly as a teenager. I went from being an utterly confident 12-year old, full of promise and with a “sky’s the limit” attitude to one of sheer terror and depression. For three long years I suffered physically and mentally at the hands of a few girls who were two grades above me. Those feelings never go away.

The problem with bullies is that they too never go away. You may never see those childhood bullies again in your life, but they’ll always be there, living in your head, little demons that run out and snarl at you when you least expect it. You have forgiven the childhood bullies, and done cleansing ceremonies. You’ve accepted and moved on. You’ve lived the best life you can. But they’re still there. They are a part of you, and they wait to pounce on you, grasping into your flesh with their sharp little fingers, whispering in your ear. Through acts of kindness, through living a life of compassion for others, you can keep them at bay, but they never, ever go away. A tiny crack in the fortress of love can allow these slippery little demons through. There merest tear in the fabric of your being allows them to shred their way straight through to your soul. Yet you continue, you go on, putting one foot in front of the other. Demons of the past may have been dealt with, but they re-emerge with demons of the present, a lingering army in your mind, combining forces in an assault against your very being. So how to win through?

As with any abuse, we can only take things one day at a time. Things will happen in our lives that will allow these demons a chance to take hold once again. New bullies may appear in your life, and dog you for years, trying to bring you down. You struggle and fight against the abuse with all the resources you have to hand: love, empathy, compassion, intelligence, determination. You may win a battle, but the war is a long one, and you are tired. So we carry on, one day at a time, one battle at a time, keeping those demons and bullies at bay, from both the past and present. It’s not easy. But you know that giving in to them is not an option, for then they would tear you apart, turn you into one of them. You struggle on, seeing the good in people, despite everything aimed at you, despite the unkindness in the world today. Is it sheer determination or just plain stubbornness? You don’t know, but you carry on regardless.

People can be wonderful. They can also be utterly awful. Though my life is filled with mostly beautiful folk, there are one or two that try to negate all that loveliness, with sour words and tongues, whispering into the ears of others, for whatever reason. These broken souls wend their way into your life every now and then, and there is no option but to deal with them as best you can. And when you have past abuse to contend with, the assault on the psyche is even worse, as issues from the past rise once again to the surface, and you realise that you have to deal with them all over again. I’m 42, going on 14.

But then again, aren’t we all? We are all stories, stories of our past trying to live in the present moment, without worrying too much about the future. We work and walk with nature, seeing the beauty in the sunset, the mystery in the moonrise. We know the different gods, we talk to the ancestors, we dance with the spirits of place. We find inspiration everywhere, and so do we use our spiritual path as well to help us along on our journey, no matter what demons rear their ugly heads.

We need to remember. We need to re-member. We need to take our inspiration from nature, to bring ourselves back into being. We need to recreate ourselves each and every day. By remembering who we are, we can re-member our very being, bringing together those disparate elements that we have lost at the hands of abuse, allowing the past to have happened, but not allowing it to live in the present moment. If we remember, we acknowledge the past. If we re-member, we forge ourselves anew in the light of a brand new day. By bringing the two together, we can find wisdom.

I spoke with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen recently about the bullies in my life, past and present. They helped me to acknowledge the past suffering, as well as the present. I am unable to do anything about the behaviour of other people, foul as it may be. But I can remain open and honest, compassionate and kind. These were their words to me, along with words of caution: they also reminded me that I have nothing to prove.

Often when we are bullied, either from the past or in the present moment, we feel that “living well is the best revenge”. However, if revenge is anywhere in your thoughts, you most certainly are not living well. We can pour inordinate amounts of time and energy into trying to prove ourselves against those who would badmouth us, who would threaten us, who would try to bring us down for their own troubled reasons. But as we realise that we have nothing to prove to these people, we release them from our lives, allowing them to be blown away on the evening breeze. We can face the darkness without fear of them lurking in the shadows.

There will always be people who are antagonistic towards you in your life, for whatever reason. My advice, for myself and for all who have suffered similarly, is to not overcompensate, for in doing so those bullies still have a hold over you. We need to take a stand sometimes in our life, and we need to speak out against injustice. But when we feel that we have something to prove, then little cracks being to appear in our being. It’s the ego talking, and it’s not coming from a place of compassion or empathy. It’s almost a form of punishment, which is perfectly understandable given the amount of suffering one may have undergone. It’s a purely human response, and we can acknowledge it as such. How we act upon that feeling is what defines us.

The bullies in our life, past, present and future, may never go away. We may have to content with them again and again, privately, publicly, professionally. My advice to all who have similarly suffered would be to not fall into the trap of overcompensation. We all have little coping mechanisms to help us get through. Look deeply into the amount of time and energy that you give to a situation, and see where that time and energy might be better spent: with family and loved ones, for example. Look for the good in the world. Look for the beauty.

I remember those long bus rides home, over an hour, with name-calling, food/garbage throwing, physical abuse, etc. I remember the more recent times of bullying in my professional life. And I re-member myself. I see the beauty of the clear blue sky, and I re-member. I see my cat’s sleepy face, and I re-member. I make love to my husband, and I re-member. I laugh with my friends, and I re-member. These are the important things that require focus and attention. This is where I can find the core of my being. This is what I re-member.

And when I do, I can let it all go, slipping into the gentle stream that burbles in the sunlight, that nourishes with its very being everything it touches.

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Kierkegaard and the Bullies

Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy – Soren Kierkegaard

Following on from a recent blog post about forgiveness, putting into practice the habit of it is, as is everything, much easier said than done. So I’m going to share some personal things in this blog post, which I don’t often do, but which I think is necessary to give it some context, and to perhaps allow for people in their own situation to relate to it in some way.

Kierkegaard’s reflection on forgiveness inspired me today to do something which I have never been able to do.  Forgive the bullies.  Thinking about forgiveness a lot lately, I have decided that the best place to start was at the beginning, when the first people who treated me badly first made an impression on my mind and my life.

I had a really happy childhood, growing up in beautiful countryside in a very loving family.  I exceled in school – primary school was a breeze.  I was top of the class in both academia and athletics – I loved them both. I was confident and happy – it was a great time for me.  However, things changed when I went to secondary school.

The first half of the first year went well – though it was a shock moving from a Grade Six class that had five people in it to class sizes of twenty to thirty children.  The school was enormous compared to my primary school, but I adapted pretty well (and much thanks to a map my sister drew especially for me to find my classes in the many halls, which was my saviour that first month!).  I was confident and smart and making new friends under quite difficult circumstances to a very sensitive child.  And then came the bullies.

They were two years older than me, and came from the same region, so we shared the long bus journey together (an hour each way, a total of two hours a day). That was where it all started.  Name calling on the bus – for whatever reason, began the whole affair.  I assume that it was because I was tall, pretty, blond and happy – though I can never truly know the full reason behind it.  Sometimes people simply think that blowing out another person’s flame will make theirs shine all the brighter, but that just isn’t the case – everyone knows two flames are brighter than one alone.  For whatever reason, the bullying started.

Being confident, I decided to fight back.  I was smart, and could have a comeback for anything. Everyone, from television and film and books, said that if you fight back, the bullies will leave you alone.

That is not the case.

I fought back, with words, not allowing them to see that they were hurting me – throwing it back at them, and also hoping that others around me would rally to the cause and that we would all overthrow this minority of bullies who seemed to control “the bus”.

That was not the case either.

People didn’t stand up for me. But I still persevered, fighting back as best I could. Eventually it did get me down, and I started to doubt myself. But I stayed as strong as I could. They put glue in my hair. They threw food and garbage at me. They called me names. They threatened me.  They taunted me every time we passed in the hallway until I avoided all the main halls and used the back stairs, entrances and exits as much as I could. I still held fast to the belief that it was because they were jealous – I stayed strong in my convictions, but it really, really started to get me down. I dreaded going to school every day, and dreaded the bus ride there and back.  I joined after school clubs just so I wouldn’t have to take the same bus as they did home – I could take a later bus. I longed for the two days of respite that the weekend brought – Fridays after the bus dropped me off was like a whole new world of freedom to be me again.

It became so bad one day though, that I had had just about enough of it all and, with no holding back, turned around to where they had moved up in the now almost empty bus to sit directly behind me and taunt me ceaselessly.  I let it rip, verbally, with all the hate, spite , viciousness and intelligence that I possessed. Their faces were shocked, and then anger took over. One girl grabbed me by the hair and started banging my head against the bus window, over and over again.  An older boy came down from the back of the bus and pulled her off of me – I had started physically fighting back – and we were separated.  I got off the bus seconds later at my stop, adrenaline bursting along with tears as soon as the bus was out of sight – I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.  I hated myself and my life.

The next day we were, of course, called into the Principal’s Office.  After a few minutes, where I (with seething calm) stated my case and then the other girl was allowed to state hers, she simply began to cry.  I was too angry to care about why she was crying – she had made my life a living hell.  I sincerely hoped the Principal was not “duped” by her show – though on reflection I do believe that she was a truly unhappy girl in an unhappy situation, the details of which I still am not aware of to this day – only rumours.

Nothing came of it for me – but I think she may have received a three-day suspension or something similar, though the memory of that is a little fuzzy.  What I do remember is that evening she called my house, and my mother answered the phone.  The girl threatened my mother and family, and also said that she didn’t care if she got expelled from school – she could always transfer to SAA.   My mother said, “Go ahead, please do.  BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE I WORK.” We never got a phone call from her again.

The bullying eased off from then on – just some taunts and words passing in the hallway. By this point, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel – the bullies were graduating that year, and once they were gone the school “was mine” again, in the sense that I could live, learn and do as I pleased and enjoy every second of it.  They graduated, or failed – I don’t really know, but they left. Those last two years of my high school life were some of the best years of my life.

I still suffered from confidence issues – walking past a group of people laughing, I would assume they were laughing at me.  Sometimes I still do – though now I catch myself and, with a wry grin, shrug it off.  But one thing I’ve never been able to do is to forgive them for the years and years of torment that they put me through.  Well, today I decided that enough is enough.

I have carried these bullies with me for 27 years now, and I’m more than ready to put them down.  As in my previous blog post, the story of the monks and the sack of potatoes, I really don’t want to carry anger and hate to these people anymore – I’m going to empty the sack, and maybe one day lose the sack altogether so that it can never be filled with anger again.  For anger is the cause of pain and suffering in the world – it is the root behind most, if not all, sufferering and “evil”.  So, no more, thank you very much.  I forgive you, CB, KJ, WG, D and A – I don’t want to carry you around any more.  I hope that your lives are much happier now, and filled with love.  Tears are welling up in my eyes even as I write this – the release is overwhelming.  I have compassion for myself and for you.  May you live well.

And so, I aim for what Kierkegaard wrote – for love is compassion and forgiveness.  I am emptying my sack, one by one, and looking for perfect love with every person who has made me unhappy.  In this way, I believe, the world can and will be a better place.  Namaste.